On the night the Raiders won their first game of their longest season ever, a 24-20 white-knuckler over the Kansas City Chiefs, the joy was almost completely unconfined. Leaving the field with the other guy feeling worse for the first time in more than a year uncorked a level of glee that took on the surreal.
How surreal? Sio Moore was telling Justin Tuck, “Don’t ever scream at me like that again,” and Tuck said, “I wanted to fight you,” and Charles Woodson was telling Moore, ““What the hell y’all doin’ out there?” and they still all came away as close as ever, if not closer.
“You know how they say, ‘Act like you’ve been there before’?” Moore would say later. “Well, I’ve never been there before.”
So let’s set up the play that brought this all on, keeping in mind the larger view, which is that the Raiders aren’t going 0-for-the-works this year. They won a difficult game over a difficult opponent, doing enough professional things at the right time to overcome their one quick visit into Raider Hell.
They took a two-touchdown lead for the first time in more than a year, on two Latavius Murray touchdowns. They were caught and passed by a superior team. They mustered up the strength to create a 17-play, seven-minute drive to score the go-ahead touchdown, and in doing so committed to the run even though Murray had left the game with a concussion.
They had well earned their joy.
And yet, because they really hadn’t been this way before, they nearly vomited it right back up in the most spectacular of ways.
The Chiefs were trying to get into position to win the game, and on a third-and-six from the Oakland 45, Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith was sacked by Moore. The soaked but delirious crowd was roaring their delight as Moore and Khalil Mack insta-choreographed a celebration 20 yards behind the new line of scrimmage.
Only the Chiefs still had a fourth down coming, the Raiders were at least two and maybe four men short, and Tuck had to frantically call a time out to avoid an event so embarrassing that to call it a Raider Moment would be to deny it justice.
“What was going through my head?” Tuck said, laughing the way a father would laugh after the moment of danger has passed and all that’s left is a story that will tell forever. “For a second there, I was looking at 11 on 7. And that wasn’t going to be good for us.
“It’s a very emotional game,” Tuck said wearily, “and sometimes emotions get the better of you. They’ve been playing with a lot of adversity, and they were letting out some of that emotion while we had four guys offside.”
Tuck got the time out in, though, and Smith underthrew Frankie Hammond with the fourth down play, thereby saving Moore a beating from Tuck that, frankly, he would have richly earned.
And we didn’t even mention the fact that three plays earlier, the Chiefs had converted a fourth and three because the Raiders committed three penalties on the same play. Woodson and D.J. Hayden had held different Chiefs and Benson Mayowa had put his hands to a third Chief’s face.
That, you’d think, would have been enough, but no, the Raiders had gone to a lot of trouble to make this first win in 368 days special, and they nearly brought the house down with the Moore/Mack Dance Until They Saw Stars.
Instead, they showed why they deserve credit for not quitting on their season as so many previous Raider teams had, why they fought through tough losses and routs, why they went to the trouble of adjusting to coaching change and the growing pains of a rookie quarterback who worked without a discernible running game until Thursday night.
Yes, these Raiders had been through a lot, a lot of times, and it is difficult to conjure how horrifying the free-fall would have been had the triple-penalty and the Insane Clown Posse Dance-A-Thon caused them to lose again. That might have undone them completely.
But it is to their credit that they did not quit on themselves before this, and that Tuck had the wits about him to call the time out before surrendering to the desire to beat the hell out of Moore for justifiable lunacy.
And now, because they stood fast even in the face of their own most comedic impulses, they are not going to be the new Detroit Lions or Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And Sio Moore will never again get to say, “You know how they say, ‘Act like you’ve been there before’? Well, I’ve never been there before.”
Because now, by the barest and most hilarious of margins, he and his teammates have been there. And there feels very good indeed.